Although Michael Phelps' absence from the 200-meter freestyle at the 2012 London Olympics is disappointing to his fans, it is a golden opportunity for fellow American Ryan Lochte to take home the gold medal.
Phelps won the gold in 2008 in Beijing, but he decided to lighten his work load this summer, which is probably a good idea. After all, he needs just three medals to surpass Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina as the most decorated athlete in the history of the Olympic Games.
It's not that Lochte needed Phelps to drop out of the race to win a gold medal. The Rochester, New York native beat the 16-time Olympic medalist in the 200-meter freestyle at the 2011 World Aquatics Championships by 0.35 seconds.
Phelps would have been Lochte's main competition in the event, but now that the "Baltimore Bullet" will not be in the water, Lochte is the favorite to top the podium.
His qualifying time is better than every other athlete participating in the event. Of the 32 other participants, only two finished within a second of the American.
Lochte's advantage going into the pool isn't due to weak competition. There are only five men in the history of swimming who have swam a faster time than Lochte's time of one minute, 44.44 seconds in Shanghai on July 26, 2011.
Despite Lochte bettering Phelps in the past, though, there's no denying that Phelps is the better swimmer. Swimming is not a team sport, but it isn't a one-on-one sport either.
However, in many of Lochte's races, Phelps has been the man to beat. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that Lochte was at a psychological disadvantage every time he got into the pool. When you're up against a man who everyone says is the best in the world, you start to believe it yourself.
Lochte has already proven that he has what it takes to beat the best swimmer in the world, and had an upset on his mind in London, but he is a virtual lock for the gold now that Phelps is out.
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